December Rains

Over the last couple of weeks things have been quite quiet here, other than the weather that has frequently been a raging beast. But all this recent rain, together with the removal of lots of reed, has certainly had a wonderful impact on the wild pond.

Here it is on 1st September:

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And today from the same angle:

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Another view of it on 1st September:

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And today:

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Just over the fence from this wild pond, the same Fox has turned up with another fish – his third in recent weeks.

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But this fish still has fishing tackle hanging from its mouth which gives a bit of an insight into what might be going on down there on the beach. In fact, I’ve found a Dungeness fishing website that had several references to opportunistic foxes. Here is an extract from one of the entries:

The Fox was an absolute menace last night and took a whiting as I reeled in, it ran off down the beach with my fish, rig and leader line while another one was sneaking around my shelter looking for bait.

I’m sure that this is the sort of thing that is going on here as well.

There is such an atmosphere of wild animal about the Fox going over the gate in this photo:

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This is the gate that is also a frequent perch for the female Sparrowhawk. Here she is:

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And here she is again three hours later going back the other way:

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Mice also use the top of the gate as a bridge during the night:

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And by day a whole variety of different bird species perch on it. There are lots of Blackbirds around at the moment and here is one with a Hawthorn berry:

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There are always lots of Magpies around – in fact here are ten of them on the strip:

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As our years here have gone on, we have grown to like Magpies less and less as we have observed their bullying behaviour. Magpie numbers have increased greatly in the UK over the last 30 years and there is a legitimate argument to cull them to protect songbirds, many of whom are struggling. I understand that this is legal so long as it is humane and in fact there is an estate near here where numbers of magpies and other corvids are controlled and that has had a really positive impact on the breeding success of smaller birds – including Spotted Flycatchers.

But, alluring though the thought of breeding Spotted Flycatchers is, the killing of Magpies is not something that we have the stomach for. We will continue to try to deter them wherever we can in more gentle ways such as expanding our growth of dense prickly bush to protect songbird nests, using anti-corvid feeders and so on.

As well as a whole load of Magpies on the strip, we also have a flock of Chaffinch:

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This is the first time that we have a winter flock of Chaffinches here like this – they are feeding on the red millet and oil seed rape that we are putting down once a week to support farmland birds.

I mentioned the Blackbirds that are here at the moment. This one at the hide pond seems to have recently survived a close call. Here he is from the back:

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And here he is from the side:

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It’s amazing how much of them is actually just feather rather than body.

All this recent rain has meant that metal detecting is so much easier in the soft ground. Today we dug up this coin:

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It’s ever so corroded but, if we make the assumption that it is a British coin, then its diameter tells us that it is a farthing dating back to some time between 1821 and 1860.

I finish today with a fungus. We put this slice of Oak beside the hide pond a couple of years ago – it came from a massive Oak in Berkshire that had blown over in a winter gale and we retrieved this bit from the tree surgeons who had cleared the road. It has become covered by Turkeytail (Trametes versicolor), a common fungus that mostly grows on Oak or Beech.

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It is a very beautiful fungus.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dog End Days of November

Its been the sort of weekend that I would describe as Double Coat Weather. One coat simply isn’t enough out there. However, that hasn’t stopped the Kingsdown sea bathers from going into the water from the beach below the meadows:

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I suspect that’s a great way to kick start any day.

In the last post, I mentioned a Fox that was carrying a Dogfish:

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Well, here he is again but this time with a Whiting or Pollock:

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At the point the video was taken, he was in the process of realising that he had a problem and that this fish was not going to go through the hole in the fence and out into the meadows.

Also in the last post, there was the sad news of a Woodcock that had flown into glass and died. Here is a close up of his feathers. How beautiful he was:

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The tail feathers from above – the tips are grey.
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These same feathers are bright white when viewed from below – used for displaying.

The bird ringer came again with one of his trainees and they caught this Collared Dove. This is the biggest bird that has been ringed here. Interestingly, doves have an anti-predator adaptation in that they shed feathers to try to leave their attacker with a mouthful of feathers while they get away, a bit balder but alive. Certainly there were many feathers around the ringing station after this bird had been processed.

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Another wasp nest has been dug out and combs scattered on the ground:

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This nest had been made inside a mouse nest and was very active indeed in the late summer. Now, however, it looks abandoned and I doubt that the badger got anything out of it.

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The hole was quite large and deep – I presume that the wasps had enlarged it because it seems much more capacious than you would think a mouse nest would need to be.

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There are now four Grey Partridge feeding on the strip rather than the three that we have had all summer and autumn:

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Lovely to see them there.

Its cold, damp and a little bit dreary out there. Here we are, only at the end of November, but already nostalgic for the green shoots and emerging butterflies of spring.

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Saving The Rain

We knew there were Woodcock here at the moment and I wanted to get a photograph of them – but absolutely not like this:

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Really tragically, it had flown into glass and broken its neck. Now it is in our fridge awaiting the bird ringer to come up and check it out tomorrow morning.

But moving on from that unfortunate incident, here is the wild pond, refilling nicely with the autumn rains and with enormous quantities of reeds pulled out. It seems quite large again now but the last two summers have been so dry and hot here that we were worried about it drying out completely and had to resort to topping it up with tap water. The trouble with that is that tap water is water that has landed on the ground and picked up nutrients which will then be added to the pond, causing all sorts of unwanted algal growth.


What is also going on in the photograph above is the building of a roofed log pile – the roof will be sloping with guttering attached that feeds directly into the pond. As well as that big benefit, the logs themselves should be great habitat for reptiles, amphibians and insects.

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Well, its all a bit of experiment, but it will definitely increase the catchment area of the pond and so should help a bit with keeping it filled. When it next rains, we will see how much water is coming out of that pipe and then judge if we should build a second one as well. The logs to go under the roof  are yet to be sourced but I think it will look really good once it is completed and weathered in a bit.

Another way to reduce the impact of a drought for our newly planted trees is to generously mulch round their bases. To help with that, we want to collect leaves this autumn and make some leaf mould. We have some crates that we retrieved from the bonfire pile of our local, friendly garden centre.

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They are extremely sturdy and heavy and were used to deliver stone to their landscaping business. We have lined them with anti-weed membrane:

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And have filled them with autumn leaves:

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However, we now need to wait for two years!

Yesterday was misty and chilly all day but the bird ringer came early with two trainees and they stayed all morning. They caught 30 birds of 12 different species. This is only the second Coal Tit that we have seen here:

A beautiful Firecrest:

A Wren and the much smaller Goldcrest:

A Goldcrest (a male because of the orange colour that can just be seen at the back of the yellow crest):

A Goldcrest in the hedgerow:

An extremely feisty and vocal female Blackbird. This bird was previously ringed with a British ring and the number on the ring will be fed back to the BTO to see where she comes from:

However, they only caught three Linnets which is disappointing when you see how many Linnets have been visiting to feed on the seed that we are putting on the strip at the moment:

I count about 60 birds here.

The Grey Partridge are also still visiting to eat this food. Here are the three that have been around all summer and autumn:

However, this morning it was a group of four Partridge that we flushed as we walked round collecting cameras. Partridge do collect together in larger groups over winter and so this maybe the start of that. Last winter we had a group of nine birds as frequent visitors.

Of course the Sparrowhawk is always interested in all this bird activity:

Now that we have had some rain and the ground has softened, today we officially launched the Winter 2018/9  metal detecting season!

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After about an hour, we had dug up all sorts of sundry metal odds and sods. Nothing exciting this time but the season has only just begun!

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As well as allowing metal detecting, the softened earth means that worms are able to move more freely and there are impressively towering worm casts everywhere as they come to the surface to drag leaves down.

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These worm casts are such a sign that autumn has now properly arrived in the meadows.

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Catching Up With The Foxes

Perhaps Foxes sometimes get a bit overlooked on these pages, but they are such a big part of what goes on here that I start today with a collection of recent photos of them:

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Up and over the gate.

Every day I go through a day’s worth of videos of the foxes and badgers going about their predictable daily routines and then something like this happens:

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Fox with a fish supper. 

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The fox presumably found the Dogfish on the beach below the cliffs here.

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A big yawn whilst waiting for the peanuts to be delivered.
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Still yawning.
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They are scolded by Magpies where ever they go in the daytime.
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A dominant Fox approaches.
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Such expressive ears.

But now to move onto birds. It has been quite windy recently and the bird ringer has managed to get his nets up just once in the last couple of weeks:

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He didn’t catch many birds but he did get a Firecrest:

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A wonderful bird. Another wonderful bird is this male Pheasant who was poking around in the left hand copse. We don’t often see Pheasants here:

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I am not sure about wonderful, but this female Sparrowhawk is certainly impressive:

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I’m always surprised at how oversized Crows’ beaks seem to be. Also, the one at the back here appears to have a classic pirates peg leg:

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Always delighted to see the three Grey Partridge:

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And also  the Green Woodpecker who frequently turns up on various cameras:

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I have got to include this photo of a Jay with a ridiculous hairstyle:

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We have twice flushed a Woodcock from the hedgerow in recent days and so set up a couple of cameras to see if we could get a picture of it. It is a crepuscular bird, being most active at dawn and dusk and as such is a challenge to photograph. This is the best we have managed so far – here it is flying in the distance in the pitch dark but just caught in the infra red flash.

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An even less clear image is this one below, although it is also exciting:

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This is a screen shot from a video. On the video itself,  it was obvious from the way it was moving that this is a mustelid – probable Stoat we think and the first Stoat that we have seen here.

I haven’t mentioned Badgers yet and I must put that right. Bedding gathering going on here and they have found some more reeds from somewhere:

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And major sniffing of the air to see what’s about. What prominent noses they have.

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I have left this diminutive, beautiful Field Pansy that is flowering in the weedy strip until last

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Field Pansy and Common Speedwell.

It is so tiny and delicate and a surprise for us to find Pansies flowering in Early November.

 

A Brand New Project

We have a new project starting:

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This is a Gardener’s Beehive – a home for Honey Bees that is designed to mimic a hollow tree stump which is where these bees would naturally make their home in the wild. A hive for the good of the bees rather than the production of honey. Once a swarm arrives at the nest, it will look after itself there with no further input from us and will stay for 5-7 years. We get the benefit of their pollination and the warm feeling that we are providing a home for them where they can thrive without interference. There is, however, the possibility of getting a small amount of honey from the hive once the colony has been established for a couple of years should we decide we want to do that.

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The instructions suggest that the hive is sited under a deciduous tree so that it gets a lot of sun in the winter but only about an hour of full sunshine once the tree has its leaves in the summer:

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The hive now has a few months to weather in before the bee swarming season starts in February. Also provided is a citrus oil lure which is sprayed onto the hive to catch the bees attention.

In these very skies above us here, the Battle of Britain was fought 80 years ago. Conflicts of a different sort are now going on above us as a Buzzard, like a large, heavy bomber, has started regularly flying over. A squadron of corvids quickly scrambles into the air and tries to see it off. Twice, it has been a Kestrel, a smaller and more agile Spitfire of a bird, that has mobilised and repeatedly dive bombed the Buzzard, calling loudly.

It is quite a spectacle for those of us watching from the ground.

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Kestrel attacking a Buzzard from above

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The weather recently has been mixed and we have finally, finally had a decent amount of rain and the ponds are starting to refill. Here is a rainbow, suggesting that a pot of gold may be buried in our hay pile.

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Actually, we have realised that the badgers are rummaging in that hay pile – perhaps more to collect bedding than look for that buried treasure though.

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A trail of hay leading from the hay pile. Hay is being dragged back to the sett for bedding.

Now that the stacks of reeds, that were much closer to the entrance to the sett, have been exhausted, they are having to look elsewhere. Recently we did pull some long grass and put it on the now-emptied reed pile and wondered how long it would be before this grass was dragged underground. The answer turned out to be less than an hour, as Scarface collected it as soon as it got dark:

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It seems a long time since we have had the lovely sight of a wet and muddy badger after a hard nights digging around:

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Bonfire Night is coming up and I think this looks like a badger catherine wheel but maybe I am letting my imagination run away with me:

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Last night, the new Bushnell camera went into the Mustelid box for the first time with its close focus lens attached (46cm). We put a few peanuts and a bit of chicken in to see what that would bring in to put the new camera through its paces. The answer was that it was just the mouse that arrived as usual, but the Bushnell did quite a good job with it:

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We have another camera focussed on a mouse hole dug into the ground in a copse of trees that must be 20 metres or more from this box. We now realise that this is the same mouse since last night we saw many peanuts being taken down the hole:

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There has been a visitor to the box that is not a mouse:

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This was before the Bushnell went into the box and so the quality is not great, but this surely is a vole. Surprisingly to me, it is much smaller than a mouse which I show below for comparison:

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I am going through a little phase at the moment of including interesting shipping that we see from these meadows. Here is the banana boat:

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Dover is a bit of a banana specialist and 70% of the country’s banana imports come in through here. We often see this ship – its the Elvira Seatrade, a reefer (refrigerated cargo) and it flies a Liberian flag. I took this photo on 29th October as it was moored up alongside the meadows waiting to go into Dover port, having left Paita in Peru on 14th October.

The last photo for today is of this interesting vessel:

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Its a French Navy Mistral Class amphibious assault warship. Military vessels are not mentioned on my Marine Shipping App and so we have no more detail on it than that, although we read that there was a large scale Nato exercise off the coast of Norway shortly after this photo was taken and so presume it was on its way North for that.

 

 

 

 

Late October

Many sorry piles of feathers tell the tale that Sparrowhawks are around, but it has been some time since they have turned up on the cameras. However,  here is a magnificent male yesterday with his rufous cheeks and breast.

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The aftermath of a Sparrowhawk attack.

And actually here he is again from a few days earlier. A powerful outline:

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But this is a female on the gate – no rufous colouring and a browner back, but the same scary yellow eye and long yellow legs.

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The homing pigeon came again yesterday – you can just see the rings on it’s left leg. It hadn’t been seen for a while and I had thought it was either one of the sorry piles of feathers mentioned above, or it had decided it was finally time to go home.

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It has been visiting for over a month now, which is impressive for a bird unaccustomed to surviving in the wild.

When we cut the meadows this autumn, the decision to leave areas untouched has meant that we can still provide cover for the three Grey Partridge that have been here all year. I was surprised to see how rusty red their tails are in flight:

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And from above as well:

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Here is a Blackbird with a sloe in its beak – the first time that I have noticed sloes being used by wildlife. Usually they wither and rot on the tree (…those that we haven’t already picked to make sloe gin of course)

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And here is a Jay with an acorn from a Holm Oak in its beak. It is nice to notice who is eating what:

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The Tawny was on the perch for the first time since we raised the camera on a pole:

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A bit burnt out by the infra red – we will now move the pole back a bit.

Actually, we have bought a new trail camera, a different one to our normal cheap and cheerful Crenovas. This one is three times the price and has extremely powerful infra red flash capability – enough to light a very large area indeed if needed. It also has clip-on lenses to enable it to focus as close as 46cm, in which case it is possible to turn the infra red down a lot. The pictures should have much better clarity as well.

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We are testing it out alongside the Crenovas at the moment to get the measure of it but eventually we hope that it will go into the new Mustelid box.

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The new Bushnell trail camera in amongst the sea of Crenovas.

A small hole has appeared in the ground of the left hand copse and the dog is excessively interested in it, doing loud snorting down it every time she passes.

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A small hole in the ground.

We put a camera on it overnight to see what was living in there. It turned out that it wasn’t just the dog that was interested:

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The residents were revealed to be two mice:

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Ok, so the picture quality is awful – perhaps I should have put the new Bushnell on the job.

We are never a rich place for autumnal fungus here, perhaps because of the lack of trees and associated rotting wood. But these White Saddles normally put in an appearance in the grass – strange contorted things:

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These come up every year as well:

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They are quite large and underneath have a honeycomb of pores rather than gills. I have been looking in my books to try to ID them and, with no confidence whatsoever, I can suggest that they are Weeping Boletes (Suillus granulatus). Certainly a Bolete of some type.

Some of the foxes have extraordinarily plush-looking tails at the moment..

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No tails here but I just like the composition:

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In front of the meadows is an area of sea that is sheltered in westerly winds and we often have vessels moored up overnight there. Recently there was the Avontuur, flying a German flag and built in 1920, it purportedly is a cargo ship although it looks much more like a pirate ship to us:

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This chemical tanker, the Whitdawn, flying a Maltese flag, was moored up alongside for about 4 days:

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Never moored up outside but always to be seen plodding along the busy shipping lane on the horizon are these floating islands:

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This particular containership is the Triton, also flying a Maltese flag, nine hours out from Rotterdam on its voyage to the Suez Canal.

I will finish today with the sky over the meadows as the sun got lower and the light began to fade last night. A mackerel sky, suggestive of a change in the weather to come.

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Autumnal Clear Out

Today was the day to clear out the nest boxes.

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Many of them have used the fluorescent fluff from the dog’s footballs which makes them look very stylish.

We have 38 boxes up of assorted shapes and sizes and 11 of them had birds nests in – mostly Great Tits but also a Blue Tit, a Wren nest and a few unknown. Additionally, the Little Owl box and one of the Kestrel boxes had Squirrel nests in them:

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The Little Owl box
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A Squirrel nest in the Little Owl box.
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Presumed Squirrel nest in the Kestrel box

Until this year we had never seen a Squirrel here. However, in early summer this year, a Squirrel started appearing on the pond cameras every day to drink. We have not now seen this animal for several months and assume it is no longer with us and so have cleaned out both these boxes – ideally we want Little Owls and Kestrels, not Squirrels.

The Blue Tit nest had 10 babies which had been ringed whilst still in the nest back in May. Nine of these babies had subsequently successfully fledged but there was sadly a dead bird still in the box:

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A dead, ringed juvenile Blue Tit.

Two of the nest boxes that we knew had had Great Tits in during the summer, now have been adopted by mice:

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Box 22 – now a mouse nest. We left it alone and will reassess in the early spring
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Box 26 – we assume this is also now a mouse nest and so have left this one as well.

So 11 nests in 38 nest boxes is not a great hit rate but hopefully many young birds will have been successfully launched into the world from them this year. We will look at which boxes didn’t get used and consider re-siting them ready for next spring.

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It was a simply beautiful calm, warm day today. Several Common Darters were at the ponds:

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Butterflies were basking in the sunshine:

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Speckled Wood.
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Small Copper.
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Red Admiral.

A Buzzard flew low over the meadows, causing pandemonium amongst the resident corvids, many of whom formed a mob to chase it off the premises:

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We saw our first ever Buzzard here only a fortnight ago and so this is still a very exciting sight for us.

Last night we were taking a stroll around at about 5.30pm and we flushed a Woodcock from low in the hedgerow at the northernmost boundary. We have repositioned a few cameras to see if we can capture it photographically as it forages around the grass in the dark but we would have to be very lucky – its a big area to be covered by a couple of cameras.

We did get this shot of a Jay – I hadn’t really realised that Jays had quite this much blue on them.

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The experiment with the new Mustelid box continues. We still have only had mice visiting the box and we are still dissatisfied with the clarity of the photo that the trail camera is taking when asked to focus on something so close:

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This is still a work in progress.

The Tawny Owl is visiting regularly but, because the camera is pointing up at the perch, it is very vulnerable to getting dew on the lens resulting in this sort of thing:

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We have now raised the camera up on a stick but hope that, now that the camera is the highest point, the owl doesn’t perch on that instead, because that would be annoying:

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Here is the badger sett by day, when the foxes are free to roam:

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But, at the witching hour (6.15pm at the moment), the badgers emerge:

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A badger emerges to start the day.

Some sniffing of the air to ensure all is as it should be:

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Then a bit of grooming:

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A bit of general loafing around:

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Then the day can properly start. Any minute now the badgers will arrive to break up this peanut party:

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We do not tire of watching and trying to understand how these animals live their lives.